Our next adventure starts with a long drive from Brest to Lviv, in Western Ukraine. Actually, the drive itself was not that long, but we had to allow two hours for crossing the border–and not because we had to wait in a long line of cars and buses. That’s just how things get done in this part of the world. Interestingly, the vast majority of that time was spent waiting to be let out of Belarus, and getting into Ukraine was a snap!
The first thing you notice about Ukraine is the black topsoil…they don’t call this the Breadbasket of Europe for nothing! The second thing you notice is the terrible condition of the roads…despite the fact that the economy appeared to be thriving. We drove along past thriving markets and beautiful churches on the way to our lunch stop.
Our country lunch stop once again showed off traditional cuisine as well as arts and crafts. This cross stitch embroidery is popular in Ukraine.
Next morning we started our tour of Lviv, with the best possible local guide…our tour manager Iryna, who was born and raised here. The city managed to escape the destruction of WWII, and didn’t have as much Soviet influence because it’s located so far to the west. So Lviv, which was founded in the 13th century, still has its beautifully preserved Old Town full of Baroque and Renaissance buildings. UNESCO has designated the entire Old Town of Lviv as a World Heritage Site. Iryna started us off at the impressive Opera House, where several members of our group enjoyed Madama Butterfly later that evening. You may have heard the city referred to as “Lvov,” which is the Russian version of the name, or Lvuv in Polish.
Lviv has dozens of churches but this one stands out: the Armenian Cathedral, dating from the 14th century. Also in the downtown area are a Dominican Cathedral, Latin Cathedral, Ukrainian Orthodox Dormition Church…each one more impressive than the last. Ironically, the Dominican Cathedral was used as a “Museum of Atheism” in the Soviet era.
Along our walk we got a pretty clear image of what Ukrainians think about Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Our tour guides, particularly later in Kiev, were not at all shy about expressing their political opinions. You can see pretty clearly from the magnets and stickers on display at the Souvenir Market how people stand. Next to the one that shows Putin with a Hitler hairdo and mustache is one that says “Ukraine–not Russia.” The nearby Rynok square is the heart of the old city, where the mayor sometimes comes out of his Town Hall office to say hello.
An unusual attraction in Lviv’s old town is the Apteka (Pharmacy) Museum. Located in a still-working pharmacy that opened in the 1700s, the museum has thousands of containers, instruments, scales, etc. The bas reliefs on either side of the front door represent Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, and his daughter Hygeia, goddess of health.
Farther along the avenue we came to the statue of Fyodorov, Lviv’s first printer. He came here after being kicked out of Moscow for competing with the monks who produced manuscripts the old fashioned way. The statue is at the site of a used book market. This area is full of tourists looking at the magnificent churches and other historic buildings.
Lviv was home for many years to a thriving Jewish community. One of the old Jewish neighborhoods is near our hotel, and the other is here along Staroyevreiska (literally, Old Hebrew) street. Synagogues and other places connected with the Jews of Lviv were mostly destroyed in WWII and this memorial is being built to commemorate the community of over 100,000 that once lived here.
We continued through Old Town along busy shopping streets with lots of interesting looking restaurants and stores. This statue of Lviv resident Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (who gave his name to Masochism) is popular with tourists. You can see the bronze is shiny where you can put your hand in his pocket and get quite a surprise!
After another wonderful lunch of Ukrainian specialties we headed up to High Castle Hill for a spectacular view of the city. I was amazed at the traffic, with trams and buses competing with the cars on the narrow cobblestone streets. Our light rail track maintenance crews back in Portland would have been astonished to see these guys welding the track…then calmly stepping out of the way to let a tram drive by before resuming their welding job!
Our next attraction was the 100-acre Lychakiv Cemetery, which has become a sort of outdoor sculpture garden with works by many prominent Ukrainian artists. Ivan Franko, the famous poet, is one of many artists and other celebrities memorialized here.
Next day was full of unique experiences. We started at the home of Professor Roman Vasylik, a renowned icon painter whose works adorn many churches. He described the traditions of icon painting, showed us mosaics from the restoration of his parish church, and told us about his family. His father and brother were both sent to Siberia during the Soviet era. His brother later became archbishop of the underground Catholic Church in the 70s. His father, sadly, died very young from working in the uranium mines. Professor Vasylik continues to teach a new generation of icon painters at the university.
On the outskirts of Lviv is the Shevchenko Hai Ethnographic Museum. In a forested park area, it is full of original wooden farm and village buildings furnished with period furniture and clothing. Today was the last day of school for the year, so these children were attending a picnic at the museum, which apparently had a cowboy theme!
The star attraction here is the Church of St. Nikolas, which was built in the 1700s and reassembled here in the 1930s.
In the afternoon we ventured way out of town to a local farm that is raising goats and making high end cheeses in the traditional French way. After getting acquainted with the goats we got to watch the cheesemaking operation and test several different varieties of cheese and wine. On our last night in Lviv we ate at the famous Baczewski restaurant, which carries the name of a local family famous for their vodka, which was sold all over the world. It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but several of the cold dishes they served, including this wonderful cheesecake, were served with dry ice to keep them cool.
4 thoughts on “Loving Lviv”
Thanks for sharing.
Loved your take on things. Wish I could be as organized as you and Jan.
Thanks so much for sharing your adventures.